The autumnal sun bled through the louvered shutter window causing pillars of light on the uneven flagstone floor, creeping slowly closer up and along the patchwork quilt, eventually invading the eyes of Marcus Rathbone. Pulling the duvet over his head like a creature of the night recoiling from the cleansing solar rays of the newborn day.
Rising slowly, shuffling zombie-like out of the bedroom and descending the narrow creaking staircase of the tiny cottage into the kitchen for a cup of hot steaming wake up juice. The smell of coffee permeated through the quaint and quirky country residence giving a feeling of homeliness, something he hadn’t experienced since his messy acrimonious divorce. His career as a writer and novelist had taken a turn for the worst, his mental health and concentration had suffered severely after finding his wife had been screwing his agent.
The cottage was a method of retreat, rest and relaxation.
An attempt to relight his creative fire and get his mind straight and flowing again.
Opening the garden door and stepping outside a gentle breeze swirled a collage of golden fallen leaves across the dew-soaked grass.
The buzz of lingering bees collected the last remnants of pollen from the retreating blooms, as winter cast its first foreboding shadows over the remote leafy hamlet of Utteridge on Wye. The cottage was small and tastefully decorated, it had all the necessary facilities for the simple needs of a struggling writer.
Basic television and an out of date analogue VHF and MW radio was all the holiday home provided.
Broadband was nonexistent, as was a reliable mobile phone signal. But that was the main reason why Marcus had chosen that particular location, its seclusion and peacefulness was all he required. It was a location far removed from the madding crowd.
Utteridge on Wye, population one hundred and thirty.
More of a hamlet than a village.
Its sparse but beautiful infrastructure included a small stone church and graveyard dating back to the late twelfth century, it stood monument to the craftsmanship of a bygone age. A building technique difficult to reproduce even in these modern times.
Entertainment was provided by a tiny public house with a small beer garden named the Utterbridge Arms, the sign above the door depicted the old stone bridge that spanned the nearby stream and a pair of antique crossed muskets. A convenience store that was also the local post office sat next door, both pub and shop were run by the same family.
The old English hamlet oozed antiquated character, its architectural heritage was rumoured to be that of Athelstan Bailey the Englishman, architect and stonemason circa eleven seventy-seven.
The silence in the village was akin to being deaf, only a quarter of its residents owned a motor vehicle.
Noise pollution was mostly absent, the serenity was seldom broken by the rumble of a combustion engine and the noise of the occasional weekend lawnmower or agricultural vehicle. Overall an idyllic location for the writer, praying the tranquility of the countryside would bring inspiration to his waning craft, as many authors, artists and poets had done so before him.
His penmanship resided in the horror and science fiction genres, the isolation of the countryside and forested areas were perfect settings for paranormal phenomena, monsters, psychopathic killers or any other type of spine chilling offering he could muster.
Readying himself he left the solitude of the cottage and ventured out to explore his surroundings, walking through the village towards open meadows and the wide-open spaces of the remote rural setting.
The close-knit community avoided contact with the outsider, ignoring his friendly gestures and greetings of good morning. This failed to faze Marcus as the requirements of his stay did not include the necessities of neighbourly companionship.
The hamlet was pristine, not one item of litter fouled the area. Every dwelling was maintained to the highest standard and did not reflect its age.
The roofs were a mixture of thatched, slate or pegged clay tile. The windows wooden, some of the sash variety and mostly not quite square due to the ageing stonework giving them a quirky appearance.
The soothing sound of a running stream caught the attention of Marcus, walking through a tree line that bordered the perimeter of the hamlet he soon located its vicinity. The gentle flow of water bubbling and cascading over rocks and fallen branches were like nature’s music to his ears. The crystal clear stream refracted the sun causing facets of light to dance upon its mirror-like surface. Tiny fish swam aimlessly in a never-ending search for sustenance, sucking up detritus like miniature living vacuum cleaners.
A pair of dragonflies silently flitted about the tall bulrushes along the bank hunting smaller flying insects, performing acrobatics like an aeronautical display team.
Marcus sat on the bank of the stream and pondered on the thought of never leaving this place, the surroundings completed him, he was one with his new environment.
The hustle and bustle of town life seemed so far away, he wanted this new life.
Right there in Utteridge on Wye.
But would he fit in, could he fit in?
The locals seemed to shun outsiders, would it be at all possible to become part of the community?
Tearing himself away from the transfixing beauty of the sparkling stream he rambled along its embankment, kicking through twigs and leaves then selecting a branch suitable to be used as a temporary walking stick.
As he ventured on nature started to take back the meadow alongside the stream, grasses grew taller and the autumn flora and fauna appeared to thrive in full swing. Swallows glided on the wing and rabbits frolicked in the adjacent pastures.
Life here was indeed perfect.
The stream banked away as Marcus approached a densely wooded area, everything around him was lush and came in every shade of green imaginable. The soil in this area had to be rich in deposits of minerals, organic matter and living organisms that supported its delicate ecosystem and maintained its diverse and magnificent qualities. The forest was thick, populated with varieties of birch, ash, beech and the mighty oak. Hawthorns, crab apple and Corylus trees heavy with cobnuts were available in abundance for squirrels and birds to forage and feed on.
Golds, reds, yellows and browns adorned the branches of the trees as the season’s change began, littering the floor with a kaleidoscope of vibrant autumnal colours.
Walking ever deeper into the forest Marcus quickly became aware he was now lost in the thicketed landscape. All paths and routes looked identical. Marcus pushed on in the direction he thought led back to the village but soon realised he was wrong.
In front of him was a clearing covered in the deepest green coloured moss he had ever seen. The damp emerald glade shimmered in the afternoon light as the sun penetrated through the large gap in the canopy of trees. On the far side of the glade, every tree was covered in what looked like the same species of moss.
From forest floor to highest branch every inch of every tree was blanketed by the invasive moss.
Dominated by the glistening damp moss the branches bore no visible leaves. The strangest thing Marcus noticed was the lack of animal life in the area.
No signs existed of animal tracks, runs or lanes made by foxes or badgers.
No birds nested or roosted in the mossy boughs or branches, or for that case flew in or around the glade.
It was desolate, devoid of all life, all life except the emerald green moss and Marcus.
No sound was heard, bird song was nonexistent not even the sound of small mammals scurrying in the undergrowth could be detected. Something deterred them, something was keeping them away.
His writer’s imagination conjured up a predator lurking in the glade preying on whatever entered.
An idea for a story? he thought.
Scattered about the clearing were what looked like moss-covered tree stumps and rocks of varying shapes and sizes.
Some almost humanoid in appearance with viridescent split separated trunks resembling legs, while others displayed appendages similar to arms. One, in particular, was pointing at something on the ground. His imagination at this point was running away with itself.
Nothing else grew in the glade, no wildflowers or any other vegetation. The moss encompassed everything.
Marcus decided to turn around and not walk across the mossy clearing, the thought of being lost and having wet feet was not very appealing to him.
After a short while, he stopped to try to listen for the sound of the running water. Straining his ears he walked towards what he thought might be the direction of the stream and hopefully the way home.
The afternoon sun was waning as Marcus finally came across the stream, following it he eventually located familiar landmarks he had seen earlier that morning.
An overwhelming sense of relief washed over him, he was hungry, thirsty and tired. He had left the cottage unprepared for his woodland trek.
Within half an hour Marcus was back at the threshold of the old English hamlet and heading back to the rented holiday home. Getting inside he headed straight to the kitchen for a well-deserved coffee and some hot food. Sitting at a small round dining table he stared out of the window into nothingness, he pondered on the idea of a story associated with his woodland venture and the eerie mossy glade with a predatory carnivorous creature. Tomorrow, he thought, I’ll start it tomorrow.
The dampness of the forest had chilled Marcus to the bone, climbing the creaky old staircase he entered the bathroom and run a hot shower. Kicking off his boots and clothes into a pile on the bedroom floor he walked naked to the steaming shower. Spending his time just enjoying the comforting heat of the watery jets.
Drying off he dressed in comfortable fleece-lined jogging bottoms and a T-shirt suitable for bed then settled down to watch one of the five terrestrial TV channels available. After surfing the amazing array of spectacular televisual choices on offer he decided to retire for the night, climbing into bed. It wasn’t long before the fresh air and the events of the day saw Marcus in the deepest of sleep.
Although slumbering soundly it was a restless night for Marcus, he twisted and turned drifting in and out of dreams and nightmares.
As morning peeped through the shuttered windows the bed remained motionless.
The pile of clothes dumped on the floor were now covered in emerald green moss. The walls had now been carpeted with the moist fluffy flowerless plant which had spread voraciously across the whole room.
Condensation dripped down the glass and puddle on the window sill.
The body of Marcus lay dormant, still alive but completely enveloped by the plant. His eyes fixed staring at the ceiling, tears collecting and beading in the corner of his eyes. Breathing still, but shallow and laboured. The moss had incapacitated him, placing his body into stasis, consuming him as a living food source. Mummified by a living organism he was now part of a symbiotic relationship he had not agreed to.
He would survive as long as the nutrients in his body were available.
Marcus had carried some of the spores from the plant back with him, where he had walked the moss had now taken over. The stairs now sported a blanket of rich deep green mossy carpet, as did the rest of the cottage’s interior. The inside now represented the outside. The strange new invasive species of flourishing vigorous moss had taken hold.
The glade had now come to Utteridge on Wye and would consume everything that stood in its way.
No living organism could survive the ferocious appetite of the now dominant curious plant-based life form.
Its composition and makeup would ravage, kill and destroy everything.
Within a month the hamlet had been devoured, every human and animal consumed by its relentless hunger.
Their bodies frozen in place, sitting, standing now forever sleeping, infected by the plant’s toxic touch.
On contact with skin, the secretions from the plant turned everything into still life, feeding on and using the flesh as a medium for growth.
Now just organic plant food for the deadly marauding organism.
A carnivorous plant that uses toxic compounds to neutralise its prey.
Spreading at a phenomenal rate, multiplying, leaving nothing but itself behind.
Utteridge on Wye had disappeared, it had been returned back to nature.
But this was a nature of sorts never seen before.
Whatever or whoever that crossed its verdant path became the moss.
First, the surrounding countryside bordering Utteridge then on across the United Kingdom.
Taking back and wiping out all life.
Eventually known to science as Sclerous Canis Voraris.
No known herbicides or pesticides could kill it.
It seems impervious to fire due to its chemical composition.
Controlled sampling and experimentation lead to further and faster infestation.
All is hopeless.
Life will cease to exist.
We are out of time…